On July 19th, 1885, three finely milled redwood surfboards glided out of the San Lorenzo Valley River mouth, into the Monterey Bay. Sunshine flashed across the water.
The boards were shaped in the “o’lo” form reserved for Hawaiian royalty. They weighed around 100 lbs each and were at least 15 feet long.
They carried three teenagers—athletic, handsome, and expert surfers. These Hawaiian princes were on a break from their studies at St. Matthew’s military school in San Mateo. They were staying with Antoinette Swan, a well-loved local woman also related to Hawaiian royalty.
A local newspaper, the Surf, reported:
“The young Hawaiian princes were in the water, enjoying it hugely and giving interesting exhibitions of surf-board swimming as practiced in their native islands.”
Surfing had reached North America.
The Princes' Story
At a young age, Princes David Kawananakoa, Edward Keliiahonui, and Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole lost both their parents. They were adopted by the childless King David Kalakaua and Queen Consort Esther Julia Kapi’olani.
As Kapi’olani’s nephews, they were already accustomed to royal life. Their adoption placed them in direct line to the Hawaiian throne.
It’s likely the three brothers were well-disciplined, polite, and popular. St. Matthew’s held its students to high standards. Antoinette’s great reputation in Santa Cruz would have paved the way for the boys’ acceptance, even if they hadn’t been royalty. Their popularity is also suggested by Jonah’s nickname: “Prince Cupid.”
After Santa Cruz
Sadly, Prince Edward passed away from typhoid fever just two years later, at 18. And neither David nor Jonah would ever be king.
In 1893, the US overthrew the Hawaiian kingdom. David and Jonah continued to promote Hawaii’s well-being through political activity, David as a Democrat and Jonah as a Republican. David passed away at age 40.
Perhaps Jonah’s great personal losses fueled his passion for Hawaii’s people and homeland. Participation in a failed rebellion landed him in jail for a year. Refusing to live in a Hawaii whose people were not free, he left the islands after his release.
When he returned, he was elected Hawaii’s delegate to Congress, a position he held until his death in 1922. In 1919, he introduced a bill requesting statehood for Hawaii. This dream was fulfilled in 1959. Jonah also pushed the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act through Congress, allowing native Hawaiians to homestead property.
The Legacy Today
Today, Jonah’s influence is still felt throughout Hawaii. The “Prince of the People” is honored with an annual holiday. Landmarks, buildings, and streets are dedicated to him. His statue stands in Waikiki.
Long after the princes’ departure from Santa Cruz, their passion for surfing remains. Santa Cruz was officially dedicated as a World Surfing Reserve in 2012—joining only three other sites worldwide.
And in 2009, descendants of Hawaii’s royal family sent a plaque to Santa Cruz. The plaque honors the three princes who introduced surfing to the mainland 132 years ago. You can see it at Lighthouse Point.
If you’re not surfing this weekend, come on out to our open houses!